I’m Not a Helicopter Parent — I’m a Helipad

Note yaiktryehy
the name: This post comes to us from Katie Johnson Slivovsky, not Sikorsky. Katie has written pieces for Newsweek, Illinois Steward, and Chicago Parent.  She works at the Chicago Children’s Museum and lives with her husband and two teens in Western Springs, Illinois. – L

I’m a Helipad Parent, by Katie Johnson Slivosky  

If the term “helicopter parent” describes people who hover over their children’s lives, what kind of parent am I?  I don’t have the skills, attention span, or desire to hover but I’m not a detached, lazy or disinterested parent. Then it occurred to me: I may be a crappy helicopter, but I make a decent helipad.  I empower my kids to take charge of their daily lives and I provide a safe place to land—a helipad—in times of trouble.

I’ll admit it: I have never checked my children’s homework. Ever. My sister teaches school and early on, she advised, “It’s your job to create the time and space for homework; it’s the child’s job to do it.” My kids just show me their grades at dinner and we talk about what’s working and what’s not. I believe my children deserve the credit—and the blame—for their grades, not me.  This goes for most of the choices they make each day.  This may sound “hands-off”, but I’m very intentional about my parenting.

I try hard to support and encourage my kids without leading them. That’s because 1) they know much more about being a teenager in 2015 than I do and 2) a lot of my parenting efforts from the get-go were geared toward providing my kids with the healthiest teen years possible.  I knew the time would come when they would drive, say yes or no to drugs, etc., and I would be nowhere in sight.  I wanted them to feel empowered to make good choices but more than anything, return to me for safe landing when bad things happened.

Mistakes Were Made

I have made mistakes. Some doozies.  One of the biggest was completely missing the signs that my then 12-year-old daughter had developed Type 1 diabetes. She was losing weight and drinking ridiculous amounts of water—for weeks. Another parent might have Googled these symptoms; I just told her to eat more ice cream and carry a water bottle. Aaarrgh.

I regret my slow response but I don’t beat myself up over it. Perhaps this is another quality of helipad parents: we’re not shocked when we screw up nor are we paralyzed by our mistakes. I expected to make a few big blunders along the way—and I expect my children will, too.

Hubby Faints

I don’t believe one parenting approach is better or worse than another. They both have good and bad qualities.  But there’s something to be said for the calm, slow-to-respond helipad: at the moment my daughter was diagnosed in the doctor’s office, I was able to remain steady and supportive.  My husband—bless him—fainted on the spot. For whatever reason, I’m just not easily shocked and there’s safety in that. When my kids talk to me about problems, they know I’ll listen, absorb and take my time before reacting.

We might be able to tweak our tendencies to determine when it’s best to zoom in like a helicopter or back off like a helipad. But at the end of the day, we are who we are and—as long as we’re trying—it’s a waste of precious parental energy to feel guilty about our flaws.  Let’s embrace the parenting style that comes naturally to us because that’s when we’re the most authentic.


Time to land!

Come on down! 

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21 Responses to I’m Not a Helicopter Parent — I’m a Helipad

  1. gina January 19, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    Katie is my clone. This is perfect parenting in my world. And Katie,,,my older kids are 23-30 and are still awesome..never a problem with any of them…so the proof is there. Keep it up. 🙂

  2. Eric S January 19, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Sounds like a free-range parent to me. 😉

  3. Papilio January 19, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    …And if helicoptering comes most natural…?
    That’s what any mom on Lenore’s show would have said before that barracuda turned their life upside down 😐

  4. hineata January 19, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    Yes, yes, yes. Fantastic piece.

  5. Katie Slivovksy January 19, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

    Hey Papilio–i know what you mean. not all behaviors that come naturally are appropriate, as you point out. i have to admit tho, that writing the Helipad piece did give me some empathy for the copters. i really couldn’t hover if i tried, and i’m sure some copters feel they just can’t back off. that’s why this TV show will be so helpful. happy that folks will really dig into what’s developmentally appropriate (through lenore’s coaching) and realize it’s actually better for the kids when the parent’s back off–at times. and in my case, as a helipad, i need to step it up once in awhile!

  6. Katie Slivovsky January 19, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    OMG, i just misspelled my own name!!!! 😉

  7. Abigail January 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    I love, love, love that Katie is putting the spotlight on being authentic and letting go of the guilt. My helicopter mom friends may not be staples for playdates, but they are loving, engaged parents. When I remember not to get defensive about letting my kids be free-range, I get to enjoy the full spectrum of successful parents.

  8. Lisa @ Four Under Six January 19, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    Oh how I love this analogy! Thank you for this. “…a safe place to land…”. YES.

  9. David Seidler January 20, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    Bravo, Katie! You are now in my pantheon with Lenore. I’m a 70 year old grandfather of 4, and I have seen both free-range and paranoid parenting up close. I think the helipad metaphor is brilliant. I like to believe I was that for my now 41 & 44 year old sons.

  10. MichaelF January 20, 2015 at 8:11 am #

    I’ve been hands off on my kids homework too, I figure they know what they do I just make sure they do it. And answer questions if they are stuck, maybe I should be a little more hands off.

  11. Wombat94 January 20, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    This. So totally, entirely this!

    Thanks Katie for putting what I have tried to do since my kids were born into words.

    The next phase of the adventure “officially” starts in about two weeks when our oldest turns 13, but we’ve been laying the groundwork for years for both of our kids.

  12. billie January 20, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks. Great article.

    My son is now in his 30s. When he was 13 I also missed noticing that he had Type 1 diabetes. There had never been any diabetes on either side of my family so it was so easy to not know what was going on. We figured it out.

    Now I am a college professor and I see how important it is to let students be self motivated and self disciplined. The greatest things I believe a parent can instill in their children is intellectual curiousity and confidence in their own abilities.

  13. Emily January 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    @Billie and Katie–I wouldn’t beat yourselves up for not noticing that your children had Type 1 Diabetes. I had a friend whose daughter got diagnosed last April, at the age of seven (almost eight). Since the little girl spent so much time with our group of friends, she basically became “one of us,” as much as possible for her age. I think I had some suspicion that the “mystery illness” could have been that, because she was looking so pale and thin, and in retrospect, looking back at pictures (we organized a day of community activities for International Women’s Day on March 8th of last year, and my friend and her daughter participated), it was pretty obvious. We even had a friend in our circle who’d been living with Type 1 Diabetes since infancy (14 months old, if I remember correctly). Anyway, I had a feeling, but I didn’t want to say anything, because I figured, “not my child, not my business.” She ended up in the hospital in early April, with diabetic ketoacidosis, but quickly bounced back, and adjusted to the “new normal.” So, while it wasn’t ideal that she wasn’t diagnosed earlier (since she was starting to show signs at International Women’s Day), the doctors still intervened in time, and she’s still the same happy and healthy child that she’s always been.

  14. Katie Slivovsky January 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Thanks for all the interesting comments and stories, folks. I would love for the term “helipad parent” to really get out there! I didn’t like referring to myself as “not a helicopter parent.” i wanted a term that described what I am, not what i’m not. I’d love for other helipad parents to feel that, too. Thanks for helping to spread the term and concept via social media. Please share, post, tweet and all that good stuff!

  15. Papilio January 20, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    @Katie: Well you spelled mine correctly, so I’m not complaining 😉 (I think I saw Lenore spell hers ‘Lenroe’ one time…)
    Yes, I do hope that many current helicopters will watch and realize they’re looking at themselves and decide to try it themselves. DO try this at home! 😀

  16. no rest for the weary January 21, 2015 at 1:38 am #

    Brava! I love the sense of companionship and shared reality I got from reading this piece.

  17. Papilio January 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    “I’m a Helipad Parent, by Katie Johnson Slivosky”

    I miss a v…

  18. Molly Wingate January 21, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    I think being a helipad is much more relaxing and sustainable than being a helicopter. Having a relationship where your teens can count on you to be present and available when there is some kind of “issue” — invaluable. Thank you

  19. Meredith January 21, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    I remember having a discussion in a principal’s office regarding my youngest son’s homework.
    We were there because I was demanding an apology from a teacher who told me that since he was not passing the class “you clearly don’t care what he does”.
    When I advised the principal I care greatly about my son AND his grades but that I was not going to do the work for him, you’d have thought I admitted to killing Kennedy.
    My point was that if I ask about homework and he says he has none then what else can I do?
    Theirs was that I was responsible for HIS homework.
    Sorry – I have a college degree and therefore I’ve completed the 7th grade. I’ve learned from failure. Why would I not allow the same for him?

  20. katie slivovsky January 23, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    great point, Meredith, and you were brave to allow him to fail. how is your son doing now?

  21. Tom Sharp January 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Mrs Slivovsky is my idea of one fabulous parent! I wish I had had conversations with her when I was first beginning to parent. Of course, that would have been impossible, since Katie is my niece, and hadn’t yet formed her thoughts on the subject at her age at the time…about 10. BUT…that doesn’t mean that she isn’t my idol in her loving, caring and wise approach to being a terrific mom. Uncle Tom